The Ride of a Lifetime

The Ride of a Lifetime: Doing Business the Orange County Choppers Way (Hardcover)
by Paul Teutul

I first learned about Paul Teutel, his family, and his business several years ago through my son’s fascination with everything motorized and “cool.”  We wached the reality TV series “American Chopper” together.  My son liked the bikes and the characters, and I liked the characters and the bikes (some a lot more than others).

For the uininitiated, Orange County Choppers is a behemoth of a brand built by a unique man who has worked for himself almost his entire adult life.  In fact, his biography is so fascinating that I found myself wishing to read more about him and his family; I had to remind myself that this book is a business philosophy book, not a biography.

Mr. Teutel credits his mega-success to relentless hard work and a passion for perfection.  Most of his business principles are as well-known and as they are difficult to live by daily.  Surround yourself with good people and reward them well, treat everyone with integrity, and embrace change while adhering to core values.  The book is peppered with vignettes fo business decisions made, partners acquired and replaced, and descriptions fo situatinos that illustrate the points well.  The book also includes a set of glossy photos of Teutel history and motorcycles.

Teutel posits that “everyone” expecte dhim to end up dead or in jail from an early age.  His childhood in a very dysfunctional family included an addiction to alcohol and drugs at the age of 15 than lasted 20 years. His father and grandfather demanded relentless labor from young Paul.  His father demanded, and Teutel paid, rent to his family during his adolescence.  Merchant marine boot camp (at age 18) gave him his first opportunity to set a goal and achieve it.

Goal-orientedness coupled with hard work is a powerful combination which Teutel weakened with alcohol and drugs until he was 35.  He credits Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with helping him achieve abstinence from drugs and alcohol for 24 years.  Demanding sobriety of hs partners and employees changed his iron works business and positioned it for growth.  He turned over the iron works business and set to building motorcycles as a hobby in the early 1990s. 

Ultimately, he invested his $120,000 retirement in the business that became Orange County Choppers (OCC).  OCC is now an international brand operated from a 100,000+ square foot headquarters in suburban New York.

Teutel is ambivalent about his family’s involvement in his business.  One son took over the iron works and is apparently doing well.  Two sons, Paul, Jr. and Michael, work with Dad at OCC.  “American Chopper” viewers know the stormy relationship they have.  While Dad always wanted his business to be a family business, he observes that things come too easily to Paul, Jr., making him casual if not lazy about deadlines and organization.  “Mikey” is a lovable youngest brother with multiple interests and a good sense of humor but little ambition.  Dad says that family businesses are the backbone of the economy, but that family can’t be managed in the workplace like other employees, and that hurts the family members.  He acknowledges the connundrum and apparently sees it as one of the few design problems he was unable to resolve.

One of the book’s key messages is that it’s never too late to resolve to be better – to become focused, passionate, and goal-oriented to pursue success.  Hmm…my now-teenage son might read this book before a lot of other self-help/business success books.  That’s a good thing.